What I Learned as a Creative Live Audience Member: 7 Tips to Create Beautiful, On-Brand Images for Your Creative Business
by Kyla O'Neill
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to be a studio audience member for Creative Live’s “Craft Photography Fundamentals” class with Candice Stringham. If you don’t know about Creative Live, I highly recommend checking it out regularly as a resource for your business. They host expert teachers who teach high quality classes on a variety of topics in an engaging and approachable streaming video medium. Also, it is completely free to watch while the segment is live, so as long as you can make it work with your schedule, you can definitely afford it!
For my brand, IMPRESSED by nature, I take all of the photos, which are used for my Etsy shop, website, and biannual catalog (print and web). I have a decent knowledge of photography, and still, most of the time, I end up hacking my way through the process in the hopes of creating a cohesive look while expressing a mood that feels fresh each time. Having had some great experiences with Creative Live as a virtual audience member, I thought it was a great opportunity to get really focused on this topic and make some connections with other makers, including the lovely SFEtsy team leader, Rebecca Saylor of OodleBaDoodle.
(IMPRESSED by nature blue green hydrangea pressed flower earrings)
Over the two days of filming, we shared challenges and successes with photographing our products and building our brands as well as ask specific questions in real time--you can also do this on the Creative Live website while the class is live. It was so neat to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating such amazing educational content in a video format. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it!
During the class, we learned so many amazing hacks for creating gorgeous product sets as well as lots of information about using smart phones and DSLR cameras to create photos that send a consistent message about your brand to your ideal audience. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Consider your audience
In order to create beautifully styled, on-brand photographs, you must consider your ideal customer. For each photograph, Candice walked us through her thought process in consideration of the type of person she wanted to reach with the photo. For example, she created two shoots for the same product, granola. In the first one, she styled for a high-powered business executive, using clean lines, a white palette, and props like a newspaper, expensive-looking utensils, a healthy drink, and white dishware. In the second one, she styled for someone who was on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods, using a richer palette and included a plaid shawl as a tablecloth, a mug with a hot drink, rose gold utensils, a hardcover book, and rustic dishware. She was able to promote the same product to different audiences and create very different moods by adjusting the lighting, contrast, and props.
Build a prop collection
In all of the images, Candice incorporated lots of props that added to the feeling of the scene and complemented the ideal customer’s lifestyle. Many of the props were repurposed in subsequent shoots and she even advised us to consider repetitive use of props as another way to reinforce your brand--as long as the prop has a strong connection to your brand and is versatile. After the first day, all of us in the studio audience had already begun shopping lists for our own props!
Hack your background
Creating beautiful backgrounds has often been an obstacle in my product photography. Candice showed us how you can create expensive looking sets really easily! For a clean, white background, use white foam boards as a surface and as a backdrop. For a beautiful bathroom or kitchen scene, use a baker’s marble slab for the surface and adhere subway tile stickers to foam board for a backdrop. For a natural background, use 2x4 pieces of wood that are stained or natural and slide them together to create the look of a rustic wood table or whitewash a piece of plywood using a matte chalk paint for a light, airy natural aesthetic. Candice recommended using floral frogs to hold up the faux backgrounds--foam board easily sticks into the prongs and keeps your hands free to shoot your photos.
(I have been hacking backgrounds for a little while now, so I loved Candice’s suggestions. This photograph was taken on a fence. I was going for a rustic, feminine fall feel, so the lace over burlap worked perfectly.)
(Here is the backyard setup.)
Foam board is more than a backdrop
Not only can you use foam board to create clean backdrops, you can also use it to enhance natural light in your photographs. Candice recommended using natural light whenever possible and if you don’t have wall-to-wall windows (who does?!), you might just need a little boost. If you use a piece of white foam board on the opposite side of the light source, it will reflect the light and brighten your image as well as softening shadows. If you are photographing reflective products, like glass, you can use black foam board to neutralize the reflection making it less distracting.
Candice recommends using front lighting for portraits--creates even lighting on skin--and side lighting for products--adds dimension. Position your photoshoot so the light source hits it from the side. The closer you get to the light source, the softer the shadows, the farther you get, the sharper they are, so find a middle ground.
(I used Candice’s side lighting tips and a low aperture setting to get great dimension on this apple. Can you guess what the backdrop is? I used a small wood cutting board.)
Learn your device
Learning some basic settings for your camera will help you create consistent images from the beginning so you won’t have to spend as much time editing. Candice suggested using the AV setting (aperture priority) and a low aperture setting (F stop) to create a smaller depth of field, which will create focus on your product and blur the background. This is best for product photography because you want to lead your audience directly to the most important part of the image. Using a low ISO (200) is best for product photos as it allows for a higher quality image, but also requires a very steady hand or tripod. Finally, use your camera’s exposure compensation to lighten or darken an image without changing the aperture setting.
(I used a low aperture setting here to focus in on the flower petals and blur the rest. Check out the segment on how to create truly white backgrounds--I am still working on perfecting it! I used white foam board for a backdrop and another piece to create even lighting on the scene, since I wanted the image to be high key (bright) without deep shadows.)
Smart phone tips
If you are using a smart phone, Candice recommends making adjustments in VSCO before posting on social media. Also, you can totally use the lighting tips above with a phone, so pull out that foam board to brighten up your image! Many phone cameras also have brightness adjustments you can make directly in the camera.
This is only the beginning of the wealth of knowledge we acquired during the class, so I strongly encourage that you check out the class. With Creative Live, you can purchase the class outright after it is live, so you can watch and rewatch until you perfect it. Candice is a total pro and makes it so possible for amateurs to create professional-looking photos on a budget.
Find Candice’s work here and purchase the class here.
Thanks for joining us, Kyla! Find her work at IMPRESSED by nature.
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